Now that it’s unleashed its army of new Fenix 5 watches, Garmin is turning back to the fitness tracker with the Garmin Vivosmart 3. “But where is the Vivosmart 2?” we hear you cry. Well, the Vivosmart HR+ kind of filled that role, but its new tracker is also a bit of a step-change.
Fitness is still very much on the agenda, with Garmin debuting VO2 Maxtracking alongside exercise detection, rep counting, and of course a heart rate monitor, but there’s also more of a focus on day-to-day wellness with stress tracking, guided breathing exercises, and sleep monitoring too.
It does drop the GPS as a result, a feature of the Vivosmart HR+, limiting its potential as a running device in our eyes. It also comes in at $139.99, so Garmin is targeting the lower end of the fitness tracking market with Fitbit squarely in its sights.
The design is of the Vivosmart is functional, but not its strongest suit. The textured rubber band has a more unibody look than its predecessors, giving way to a smooth black strip down the middle that disguises the screen. The monochrome display is completely invisible when off, but it’s quite small when on and stops short of the curve. While it might not be too inspiring to look at, it’s incredibly comfortable and also keeps it waterproof enough for swimming. Unfortunately it also attracts smudges and dust like it’s going out of fashion – seriously, it’s tough to keep this thing clean. You’ve got two versions to pick from – small to medium, and large – but its unibody build means you’re stuck with whichever size you get, so make sure you pick the right one.
At its basic, the Vivosmart 3 tracks your steps and heart rate through the day, giving you an on-device readout of your beats for the last hour, including the highest and lowest points. This in itself makes for a nice daily log of HR info, but the big new feature Garmin is making a point of is stress tracking, which draws on this data.
Now, Garmin is yet to switch on support in the Connect app, which means we’ve been testing everything directly on the device. But you can swipe to a graph that represents your level of stress, and if you find it to be alarmingly high, you can tap across to the Relax Timer, Garmin’s guided breathing feature. We need to spend a bit more time with this feature as, so far, there have been moments where we’ve felt incredibly stressed and looked down to see the Vivosmart 3 agree – but other times where it hasn’t.
So far in testing the step tracking has been on point, but heart rate readings are TBD until we can use the Vivosmart 3 with the Connect app. Still, we’ve been able to take it out for a couple of runs, and testing so far has shown the heart rate tracker to be lagging a little on live readouts compared to a chest strap, but we’ll need some juicy graphs before we can draw any verdict on this. Despite lacking GPS though, we’ve found the distance tracking to be good so far when put up against a GPS-enabled device.
Beyond running, the Vivosmart 3 can also track reps, jumping jacks and step-up exercises. VO2 Max, something we’ve seen Fitbit bring in on the Charge 2, is also making its debut on a Garmin device here. This is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise, and when accurate, can be a much better stat to measure your fitness against. On the Vivosmart 3 you’ll need to do a brief workout, be it a walk or a run, before it can gauge your level.
App or not app, you’re going to be navigating around the menus with taps and swipes, and this is, so far, the Vivosmart 3’s weakest point – it can be frustratingly unresponsive. Skipping through the different screens is done with a swipe up or down of the finger, and then a tap to see more data. For example, on data like step count and stair climbs you can tap to see your score for the day before, or a tap on heart rate will give you a tiny readout for the past hour along with your highest and lowest points.
So far we’ve found that it too often misinterprets taps for swipes or sometimes just doesn’t respond at all. You have to be direct and bold in your movements, although when water gets involved it seems to get worse. We got caught by the rain on one jog, and had to wrestle with the screen a lot more to get it to do what we wanted.
The Vivosmart 3 will display notifications from your paired smartphone, but again, the lack of app support thus far in testing means we haven’t be able to try this out. We’re looking forward to seeing how good this feature is in practice though. We’re also interested in whether the promised five-day battery life holds up, but all signs are good from testing so far.
All in all, there’s still a lot to dig into, and we’ll bring you our full review once we’ve had a chance to get the Vivosmart 3 working with the app and have given its fitness abilities a thorough testing.
So far, the basics seem promising, but it’s in the heart rate data that much of the battle will be won or lost. For day-to-day tracking, we’re more optimistic, but we’ll need to spend some quality time with the Vivosmart 3 before we can say whether it’s good enough for more serious workouts.